Episode 212: Packages And Pop Stars
Present: Maer, Terri, Bobby, Jay and Tony
Air Date: 20 Oct 2009
Saturday, 18 May 2520
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
06:30 hrs, local time
We spend five days on the ground after the rescue, licking our wounds and looking for work that will take us off Aesir. After two days, Rina revives and gives in to practicality: her gun is gone. There’s no going back for it. The Camdens have it, along with everything she carried in her pockets. She’s got some shopping to do, the next time she has a chance to get to it. First on her shopping list: get another gun.
Christian likewise is on the mend and back on the job. He wants to make good on the implicit promise he’d made to Rina to go to Salisbury to find Mike. The rest of the crew agrees to give it a try. Cargo prospects, however, are slim in that direction. We end up being offered a mail shipment bound for the Skyplex Space Bazaar, midway between Aesir and Paquin. Since both Paquin and the Skyplex are on the way to Salisbury, we take it.
It’s not too long a journey, about 90 fuel hours. Rougly three and half days. When we get there, we’ll deliver the mail, fuel up, do a little shopping, maybe arrange some cargo and take off again. Piece of cake.
We should know by now to never put our trust in cake.
Thursday, 23 May 2520
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
11:30 hrs, local time
Arden’s been keeping an eye on the injured crew, making sure their recovery isn't ruined by overwork (Rina) or complications due to internal injuries (Christian). He also notices Jake spending hours at a time absent from the ship and when he does show up, it’s with an expression of one dealing with a private emotional issue. He keeps an eye on Jake and the situation there, too. Perhaps Jake will be forthcoming later, once we’re under way.
On the dawn of the 23rd, we take on our cargo and take off. Next stop, the Skyplex.
En route, we find out more news about the catastrophic fuel systems failures affecting the Tohoku class Alliance ships. The failures were limited to IAVs Dortmunder, Magellan, and Trafalgar. However, the remaining Tohoku Class ships, the IAVs Sun Tzu, Alexander and Pericles were ordered to safe harbors for full evaluation and possible replacement of their fuel systems. It is still unclear if the problems lay in the fuel, their systems or outright sabotage by parties unknown, but investigations are under way. Engineers for the Iskellian Shipworks (designers of the Tohoku class) insist their design is not responsible for the failures. Other vessels in the fleet are maintaining limited patrols and pulse use as a precaution until the truth of the matter can be ascertained.
All of which means the Alliance just suffered a significant reduction in its ability to project its military power. The Tohoku class ships were instrumental in that task and now 6 of them are offline. The Universe abhors a vacuum and it’s inevitable that something will come along to fill it. It only remains to be seen as to what.
Sunday, 26 May 2520
Skyplex Space Bazaar
LaGrange Point between Red Sun and Heinlein'
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
14:00 hrs, local time
Seven days after Christian, Lem, and Rina’s rescue, Summer’s Gift docks at the Skyplex Space Bazaar. The space station itself is one of the lollypop design stations, with the docking ring separated from the rest of the station by a long tube to give ships docking there more room to maneuver. The only way to access the station from the docking ring is via the elevator in the tube and the elevator itself is a weapons detector.
To wit: it will not run if weapons are present inside it.
So of course it takes Rina several tries before the lift will move, amid grumbling from the other station patrons at the delay. In the end, Nika has to shove Rina back to the Gift and Rina boards the ship, shucks her coveralls, pulls on trousers and a tee, and grabs her belt pouch to carry her wallet and duct tape.
The lift moves up to the station without a hitch. The crew makes immediately to the Star Bar to rustle up some food and drink. There’s a stage at one end and a female duo, Tian Shi Zi Mei (tr. Chinese: 天使姊妹 )the “Angel Sisters”, are singing. Christian looks around the bar and spots a man who has the expression of a fervent fan….or a stalker. Everyone else in the party orders something alcoholic. Christian looks at the Angel Sisters on stage and thinks they look familiar. Has he slept with either of them? No, but why do they look so familiar?
It’s actually Arden who solves the puzzle, being a fan of pop music. They really are sisters, named Wu Soong and Wu Fang, and they used to perform under a different name: Wu Wei. After the first Miranda Wave, their band came up with a musical response to the incident. They became infamous for their political song, “Miranda Calling”. When the furor died down, they disappeared off the charts and reinvented themselves into their current incarnation.
Mystery solved, we’re able to relax a bit and take in the bar and the other patrons. The Angel Sisters have fans in the crowd, including a young man who seems to be perhaps too avid a fan. He looks strung out, on edge, an uncomfortable in the clothes he’s wearing, as if he’s worn the same clothes for days. When the Angel Sisters finish their set, the man makes his move, calling out to them: Excuse me, ladies. Ladies…!
The Angel Sisters look his way, obviously not recognizing him as anyone they know and they nervously retreat backstage. The man follows them. No one else in the bar seems to have noticed.
Arden: Okay, I’ll bite.
He rises from the table. Christian silently urges Nika to play back-up.
Nika: Oh…fine. I’ll go. Oy!
Rina: I’ll go.
The three of them follow Fan Boy to the backstage area and Rick decides to join Jake, who’s sitting off to the side morosely nursing a beer. Christian leaves Lem with Rick and Jake and follows in the other’s wake. Rick and Jake grab some peanuts from the complimentary bowl and teach Lem math with them.
Christian, Nika, Arden and Rina find Fan Boy pushing on the girls’ dressing room door as they lean on it to keep him out.
Fan Boy: No really it would just take a second. I need to talk to you something, it’s very important!
He turns around at our approach.
Christian notices that the Fan Boy has a bad dye job, his original color being a sandy-brownish color, though it’s dyed black. Christian asks the man why he’s here. The man insists he’s just a fan. Christian’s not buying it. Fan Boy leaves. Which suits Christian fine, given that was his goal all along. Crisis averted, Nika drags Rina away before she can do something violent to Fan Boy and grabs Arden by the ear. He protests, he wants to meet the pop stars. Nika assures him that Christian will get him an autograph and pulls Arden along. Christian waits til his crewmates are gone before he taps on the door.
Christian: It’s okay. He’s gone now.
The door opens and one of the girls looks out, sees the coast is clear. She overhears Arden’s comment and she calls out to him:
Angel Sister: We’ll be back out in a little bit to sign autographs.
And the door closes again.
Meanwhile Rick had been drawing Jake out over beer and peanuts. It turns out that Jake’s a little worried about his family. They have Independent leanings and they’re now considering taking some kind of action off-planet. There’s been some chatter of bringing people from different places and that they’re heading to Salisbury—of all places. Jake seems rather uncomfortable talking about it, preferring to skirt the issue and Rick doesn’t press him. At which point Nika and Rina and Arden join Rick and Jake at the table and at which point Jake clams up. Christian thanks the two men for watching Lem.
Lem pipes up: are the ladies going to sing some more? Christian asks if Lem likes their music and gets a so-so response when he suggests we buy one of the Angel Sisters discs. Still, Lem is showing increasing awareness and interaction with the outside world and it’s a good sign for his continuing improvement.
The Angel Sisters do come out and play a few more sets. We sit and listen and sweep the crowd. People are coming and going, the place is crowded and hopping. Nika notices two men walk in about halfway through the current set, dressed like the rest of the spacers in spacer-grunge….only looking a mite cleaner than the average spacer would. It makes them stick out. Furthermore, they have a palm-sized databook booted up and opened, and they’re showing it to people as they make their way deeper into the bar. By now everyone at the table is looking at what Nika’s staring at.
Arden: This doesn’t look good.
They don’t look like Federal Marshals, based on our experience with that arm of the law. So who are they and what do they want? What’s on that databook? Are they bounty hunters? Nika puts a hand on Christian’s arm and murmurs to him to let it slide, let it go, and God, don’t let Rina freak.
Eventually the two men reach our table. One of them asks if we’ve seen somebody… And he turns the databook toward us, showing us a picture of Fan Boy. Only it’s a picture of Fan Boy cleaned up and minus his bad dye-job. Arden looks and calls for another drink, please. Christian thoughtfully examines the picture and hems and haws, saying he looks familiar, but….. The man says he’d be ever so appreciative if we could help him and Arden asks what the wanted man’s done. The man is reluctant to tell all but reveals the hunted is a deadbeat dad skipping on child support payments and intimates they’ve been tasked to bring him to heel. Christian remarks that it’s fairly expensive to pay to send hunters all the way out here, especially for a client already in dire need of money. The man counters with the promise of a reward. And we’re all thinking: hard-up client in need of child support who can somehow afford to bankroll a reward in addition to sending two people out to the Rim?
Christian considers the man carefully. Is the man lying or on the up and up? Is he a bounty hunter? Christian is fairly sure the man is a bounty hunter and a fairly competent one. And as for Fan Boy, Christian is pretty sure the bounty hunter means him some ill will. Fan Boy probably owes the man money. Christian realizes he’s taken too much time to think it through, any continued pause on his part would look duplicitous. He points to the data book screen and looks at the rest of us, asking if the suspect looked like that guy at that part we went to on that last little moon…..oh, what was it’s name?
The rest of us get the gist and pick up on the obfuscation, and it pretty much devolves into a friendly argument as to which crewmember was the drunkest at the party. The bounty hunters aren’t entirely convinced and offer to meet with us outside the lounge to fill us in on the details and perhaps come to some sort of arrangement. After all, the guy they’re after isn’t someone who deserves our sympathy. What shmuck who’s run out on his flesh-and-blood kids actually deserves sympathy? Arden asks if the man is dangerous. The bounty hunter is vague on that point. Christian interrupts like someone finally remembering something important and claims he’d seen the subject at the Camden Wedding reception. Any trouble we can throw the Camdens’ way is fair turn about in our book. The bounty hunters do not rise to the bait and we are apologetic we cannot help them more.
Christian: Thank you for the drinks. We’ll be hanging out here for the rest of the day. On and off. You’ll find us here if you want to talk again.
Man #1: All right. Oh, and what ship did you say you were on?
Arden: We didn’t.
Christian: Our captain is very very strict about landfall protocol.
Arden: (Aside to Rina) We have landfall protocol?
Rina and Nika together: (to Arden) Shut up.
The bounty hunters take their leave and Christian announces his intention to help Fan Boy. These men mean him harm, he explains, and that’s good enough reason for him. Rick disagrees and Christian shoots back that had we kept that attitude, Rick would still be stuck on Lassek with poachers. There’s little arguing with that. We decide to see what we can do for the guy.
Before we can rise from the table, the set ends and one of the Angel Sisters announces over the mic that she and her sister are going to Paquin to enter in the Voices of the Verse talent contest. It’s one of the biggest Cortex shows around, will be broadcast live at the event and if we would be so kind to make donations to their travel fund, they’ll be passing the hat around. One of the sisters makes the rounds of the tables and when she gets to ours, Christian drops in a ten credit note. She thanks us, surprised, and then asks hey, weren’t you the guy at the door? She thanks us again, this time for our assistance with the Fan Boy. It’s the first time they’d ever had a problem with something of that nature, she confides, and our help with the matter is greatly appreciated. Christian sympathizes, commenting that such fannish devotion can be both gratifying and terrifying. The youngest Angel Sister agrees, saying they know what insane people are like. Which comment earns her a daggers-look from her older sister, who’s come up to join us. Arden confesses we know about their song, netting blank looks from the both of them. Which one? The Miranda one. And before Arden can go into details, the older sister yanks the younger sister back to the stage for another set.
Apparently their experience with that song isn’t as pleasant as Arden’s. Christian warns Arden that the government isn’t likely keen on having that song circulated and the populace reminded of Miranda right now. Which only reminds us of current events.
The Blue Sun situation has the quarantine is still in place.
The Parliament is still without a quorum and whatever effective government we have at the moment is whatever bureaucracy was in place with the Parliament ceased working.
Three of the Tohoku cruisers were disabled and are still effectively out of commission. They can travel but they cannot pulse. No one’s saying anything definitive but there’s word of investigations into the matter—what went wrong? Was it the fuel? Fuel parts? Sabotage by the fueling agents? Was it a design error? Getting parts to repair the ships shouldn’t be too difficult. They date back to the years after the War. They aren’t that old and they aren’t entirely combat ships, either, being more administrative in nature. Still, the loss of three of the ships is a major blow to the maintenance of Alliance rule.
In fact, the crew on the Tohoku class ships are getting rotated off in large numbers and not being replaced. The ships are operating on skeleton crews while they are offline or being repaired.
In addition to a strictly military role, the Tohoku class ships are also administrative and corporate centers for systems outside the Core. All the major Alliance social, economic, and governmental infrastructure bureaucracies are represented on the Tohoku class vessels, acting as travelling versions of the government agencies they are a part of. For some places in the Black they are the only form of Alliance service there is. All those people are now barred from their customary workplace and must now be reassigned to other ships or other postings dirtside. This is not a popular decision, in part because any bureaucracy’s first imperative is to perpetuate itself and make itself grow. Can’t do that if you can’t work. As a result, the normal complement of literally thousands usually found on a Tohoku class will be absent. Which just begs the question: how big is the skeleton crew going to be?
At which point Rick and Rina speculate on how to take over a cruiser of that size. Rina instantly comes up with several scenarios and is getting quite animated about it. Nika puts a kibosh on that conversation, saying she won’t countenance strategizing how to take over one of these vessels and that is not a train of thought we need to be on in any fashion. Especially since it would be considered treason. If Rina insists on pursuing this line of thought, please do it somewhere more private.
Nika has a point.
We wrap up our drinks and exit the bar for the Gift. Approching the elevator on the we see the disheveled Fan Boy slouching against the wall, with a foot up in classic loiterer’s fashion. In an urban setting, you wouldn’t look at him twice. Given his current surroundings, however, he sticks out like a sore thumb, despite his demeanor and Christian remarks to no one in particular that Fan Boy makes a very bad bad spy.
Arden takes it upon himself to walk over to the Fan Boy and Nika just moans under her breath: Oh no. And since Christian figures Arden’s being stupid, there’s no point in NOT keeping an eye out for bad guys… like the guys who questioned us in the bar.
When Arden asks Fan Boy what he’s doing, the Fan Boy declares he’s not doing anything. Arden counters that Fan Boy is standing there like he doesn’t want to be noticed in a stark bare place where no one would have any business lingering, so explain again how he’s not noticeable? Fan Boy backpedals and apologizes, saying he was just waiting for someone to come out of the elevator. Arden asks if it wouldn’t happen to be those two big burly guys from earlier, would it? Fan Boy asks, no, why? Is someone looking for him? Arden says well, yeah. Funny you should mention… Fan Boy leans closer and says: Now we’re closer to the truth. Do you know who they are? Arden says no, and why is he yanking the chain of the Angel sisters? Fan boy tells Arden he shouldn’t get involved and Arden insists he already is. Fan Boy starts going for the emergency exit, the interview clearly over and Arden returns to the crew. Christian asks Arden if he thinks Fan Boy is genuinely in trouble? Is there a genuine need for us to step in? Arden’s not certain beyond wanting to find out more.
Fan Boy hits the door for the emergency exit (to stairs, actually) and the alarm starts blaring. The elevator arrives, we jump in and just as the doors start closing we hear some high-pitched voices calling for someone to hold the door. We hold the door and the Angel Sisters rush in, looking a little less angelic and more like the rest of us—just trying to catch a ride.
They push the button for their floor, turn around and see us and recognize us from the bar. It’s not an entirely comfortable ride for them, not being sure what to say after that conversation we all had in the bar. The elevator sinks. The “Girl from Iponema” plays over the speakers. We make small talk. They say they’re glad we enjoyed the show. We agree it was a very good show. They ask if we’re going to be around much. We say not for long, we’re just stopping for cargo.
The elevator slows, stops and pings. The doors open. The girls exit.
Christian and Arden notice the two men from the bar are a little way off down the corridor. Arden starts to ask about them but Christian shushes him and grabs the two girls back into the elevator. Christian assures them they can come back to this floor, that we mean them no harm, but those men outside don’t mean good things to people and are hoping to use the girls to bring Fan Boy in.
The girls draw to the side and converse quietly. Meanwhile, the elevator is still paused on the floor. Christian urges them to hurry, to avoid gaining the notice of the men outside. The girls counter—where will they go. Simple, Christian says. They can come with us to our ship. The Sisters step inside, the doors close and the elevator descends.
The Sisters look nervous.
Christian offers to let the girls look at his Companion’s papers, if it makes them feel better. He’s not about to kidnap anyone and further distracts the Sisters by introducing Rick to them as the celebrity he is. Rick starts whistling “Miranda Calling” and Rina cuffs him. One of the Sisters recognizes him and remarks it’s been a while since he’d been on the Cortex. Rick grins and trots out his catchphrase—“That’s not a robot!”—and one of the Sisters looks startled. She asks Rick if he wasn’t the one who did the broadcasts from Miranda? Rick confirms that he is.
Oh shit. We forgot about that. Apparently the Sisters haven’t. They huddle off to the side and confer together.
The elevator stops and the doors open and stepping out we all see a pair of legs dangling from a hatch in the ceiling. What the hell? Drawing closer we see it’s Fan Boy. Somehow he’s made it through the station infrastructure to the hatch. The Sisters recognize him and try to escape via the elevator, clearly frightened of him. Christian stops them, saying Fan Boy is harmless, really. Christian tells the man to come down. Rick helps him. Nika complains about karma continually biting us in the ass—clearly she’s not eager to get involved. Christian tells Fan Boy to come with us and while he’s at it, he’s going to get a real dye job—not that horrid one he’s currently got, cuz…damn.
The Fan Boy brushes himself off and immediately tries to talk to the Sisters, calling them by their former incarnation, Wu Wei. Christian puts his foot down—we’re not going to be doing anything until we’re somewhere private and sitting down and not bothering anyone. Nika, he points out to the Sisters, has a gun and will shoot Fan Boy if he does anything untoward. Fan Boy will calm down and have some tea. The rest of us will follow everyone else aboard.
We get everyone settled on the Gift and seated around our table in the passenger lounge. While Christian makes tea, one of the Sisters exclaims she recognizes him! He’s the jerk that got her and her sister kicked off of Londinium. Peale counters that it was a long time ago. The Sister angrily counters it was only nine months ago!
Fan Boy pulls a slim ceramic box similar to a cigarette case out from under his raincoat….and explains.
He’s not fan boy. He’s Michael Peale. He was right hand man to Parliamentarian Miranda Falkan of Londinium. He’s earned a reputation for back room talks and as Falkan’s right hand man he has access to all sorts of information. One bit of which is in here—and here he taps the cigarette case—and the contents of this case is the source of his current difficulties.
What this case holds, he says, is a confidential conversation between an unidentified man and Falkan, recorded without her knowledge. The conversation heavily implicates Falkan in a deliberate, premeditated plan to allow Blue Sun system to suffer under Reavers, TSE, and the Quarantine to bring them back under Alliance control. The exact date isn’t verified but it appears to be just after the ACDC reports of TSE wherein it’s suggested the disease is less a threat to other systems than was first feared.
Peale puts his thumb on a flat depression on the case, it glows and the case snicks! open. Inside is a holo-chip, of the sort people use to send vids over the Cortex. When he found out that the Sisters were at the station, he thought that given their past political activism they would be sympathetic to his plan to broadcast the vid the same way the Miranda Wave had been—over all the channels they can grab, to alert as many people as possible to Alliance duplicity.
Christian tells Peale to play the chip, and we check it first to make sure it’s virus-free. While Arden does that and discovers that the chip is genuine and copy-protected, Rina inspects the ceramic case and discovers something cool about it: the case is a ceramic Faraday Cage, capable of shielding anything it holds from EMPs. It’s an ELINT security geek’s Holy Grail and Rina’s geeking pretty hard over it. She calms down after a minute and inside the case we see the Parliamentary Seal.
Whatever’s on that chip has got to be pretty damned…well….damning.
We slip it into a holo-chip player and hit the playback button. The holo shows us the interior of a very nice office, as befitting an MP of Londinium. She’s an attractive older blonde woman, dressed attractively. We can see MP Falkan in the office with another man, standing up to the side while she sits at her desk.
MP Falkan: Anything else?
(Unidentified) Man: Lady Falkan, intelligence from Blue Sun…
She looks pointedly at the camera.
MP Falkan: It’s probably not a good idea to have that on tape.
We see Peale walk up to the camera and his hand fiddles with the lens, doing nothing to it but looking busy. Then Peale steps back .
Peale: (blithely) Okay, that should do it.
MP Falkan: Shouldn’t the light turn off?
Peale: No, it’s good.
MP Falkan: All right. You know what you’re doing. (To the Unidentified Man) All right. What’s the news?
The Unidentified Man continues.
(Unidentified) Man: Blue Sun is reporting a rise in Independents’ cortex traffic. There is reason to believe they might be using this situation to secure a foothold in Blue Sun.
There’s a pause from Falkan. Then:
MP Falkan: What sort of foothold can they secure? It isn't like they have a navy, or an army for that matter. A handful of ships and a few aging war veterans is hardly a threat.
Man: We've reason to believe it might be more than that. But, you're correct, they'd be no match for even a single Alliance cruiser group. Still, we won't be winning the hearts and minds of the people of Blue Sun by bombarding their planets. They already think we don't care about them. With the Reavers loose in the system and TSE running through their food supplies, they are already fairly hostile to the Alliance.
MP Falkan: Honestly, we spend more time worrying about a handful of gorram dirt farmers than the billions here at home.
Man: What can we do about it?
MP Falkan: (Pause) Hmm. Suppose we do nothing.
MP Falkan: If they want independence so much. Let's see how they like being on their own. Plague, Reavers, Starvation, give them a couple of months, and they will be begging us to come in and save them.
Man: If there's anything left to save.
MP Falkan: If not, all the better, wipe the slate clean, start over again....run this through the back channels, see if we'd get support for this. Keep this on the QT.
The recording ends.
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